Miami-Dade Police officer Frank Adams calls it the "Rodney King beatdown." When the burly, soft-spoken 15-year department veteran watched four fellow cops kick, choke, and punch an unarmed subject eight years ago, he says, it was every bit as vicious as the infamous Los Angeles incident. The only difference: There wasn't a video camera to catch it.
"I thought he was dead," Adams says of 42-year-old Henry Lee Gaines, who was arrested around 4 a.m. September 22, 2002, in front of his tiny banana-colored Brownsville home. "I saw him go into convulsions and thought, Oh my God, they killed this guy."
But what really floored Adams is the way Officer Gregorio Perez, who wrote the report, spun the incident. Five-foot-nine-inch Gaines was described as an incredibly powerful aggressor. He had allegedly lifted one officer onto his shoulder, climbed a set of stairs, and hurled the cop to the ground. He had supposedly even grabbed Adams by the shirt and repeatedly punched him, knocking him to the ground and injuring his hand.
It's a lie, Adams says. He claims Gaines never resisted: The hand injury had occurred when another cop knocked Adams over while trying to kick Gaines. No criminal charges have been filed, but the claim was validated last month by the department's Professional Compliance Bureau (PCB).
Adams is an exemplary cop if his personnel record is any indication. He has been decorated with 12 commendations for good police work, and his daughter is also a Miami-Dade officer. But he says the state's largest police department has become a menace, regularly abusing and humiliating the people it's sworn to protect — and then lying about it. He's risking his career by speaking with New Times to expose its failings.
"They're supposed to be my brothers in blue," he says, struggling to keep his voice audible as his eyes become soggy. "But they're not my brothers — not when they're treating people like this."
Miami-Dade Police spokesperson Treanese Louissaint declined to answer a lengthy list of questions detailing Adams's claims about the alleged beatdown and other incidents. She said the department "will be able to make a comment" only upon receipt of information from the PCB. As of press time, that had not happened.
The son of a maid and a mechanic, Adams grew up in South Miami's Brooker Apartments housing project. He was poor but never hungry, he says, and his folks were devout Baptists. "My parents always hammered into me the same Bible verse," he says. "Treat others the way you want to be treated."
He graduated from South Dade Senior High and in 1979 joined the police force. A year later, he quit on the advice of his minister, who convinced him the job was too dangerous. "He told me that on a Sunday," Adams recalls. "I put in my notice on Monday."
But after 16 years as a teacher's assistant, a railway worker, and a security guard, he was rehired in 1996. His longtime partner, Officer Nathaniel Koontz, says that Adams "helps people who can't help themselves. He's a fair person. He's not going to make nothing up, and he's not going to tell no lies."
Adds Adams: "I always thought of the job as protecting and serving. You can stop crime by staying visible and knowing the citizenry."
But he thought some things about department policy were problematic — particularly unwritten arrest quotas, which led to bad collars and illegal searches. He even sued the county, claiming stats-based officer evaluations were unfair. That suit is still slogging through the court docket.
And in 2002, Adams started whistle-blowing. It began with the Henry Gaines incident. Adams had responded to a call for backup, he says, to find Officer Luis Pratts Martinez "on top of" Gaines, "chok[ing]" him with his right arm.
Gaines, a chef at a racetrack, was "lying on his stomach, gasping for air," Adams wrote in a four-page complaint. Pratts Martinez was continuously punching the man in the head. At Adams's urging, they cuffed Gaines.
Then another cop, Luis Torres, arrived on the scene, burst from his cruiser, and "ran up and kicked Mr. Gaines in the face," Adams wrote. The kick sent Adams knuckles-first into the gravel. A fourth officer, Jorge Arana, started "stomping and kicking" the chef in the legs and side. Adams says he leaped onto Gaines to protect him from the kicks.
Gaines tells New Times the first cop attacked him without warning as he walked from his car to his front door after working the night shift. Then Adams tried to save him. "They were choking me and dragging me through the mud," he says. "All I saw was a big black man fall on me and cuddle me like a baby."
Eventually, the cops stopped beating Gaines when he began shaking uncontrollably.
Officer Perez's report describes a rampaging Gaines attacking Pratts Martinez and Adams. It claims Gaines was stopped for having a wrong tag on his car, and never mentions Officer Torres.
Gaines, a recovering addict who also has cocaine possession on his record, pleaded guilty to felony battery on a police officer, received probation, and was ordered to pay court costs. He explains that move simply: "Who is a jury going to believe: Me? Or a bunch of police officers?"
From that point forward, Adams began looking differently at the department where he worked. In 2004, he discovered Polaroids — apparently confidential photos from a sexual assault case — pinned to a police station bulletin board. They were of a tear-streaked, grimacing woman holding her shirt up to show her stomach and lower back. Each photo was scrawled with a love note to "Chique," one officer's nickname: "Chique, you know you want me, I want you now, call me."
That same year, Adams was offended to find officers drawing mustaches and eyepatches on desk-taped photos of a homicide victim. "These are the people we're supposed to be protecting," he says. "Instead, we're humiliating them."
Also in 2004, Adams claims to have witnessed fellow cop Paul D. Angelo improperly arrest 47-year-old Gregory McKinney. He was standing in front of his Liberty City home fixing a bicycle tire when Angelo, apparently searching for a machete-wielding robbery suspect, drove up.
The cop claimed he had "observed a cylindrical bulge" in McKinney's pocket during a "field interview" and "for [Angelo's] safety" had conducted the pat-down, which revealed a "sharp razor blade within a metal sheath."
Adams witnessed the arrest and immediately recognized the problem: Box cutters aren't illegal.
The concealed weapon charge was dismissed, but not until McKinney, a roofer with prior arrests for cocaine possession, spent a week in jail.
So Adams persuaded McKinney to file a complaint. Then he began investigating what he termed a "false arrest," interviewing several witnesses on his own. He then presented his findings to superiors.
Police authorities weren't convinced. On August 12, 2009, they dismissed the complaint against Angelo, who has since become a sergeant, and suspended Adams for five days for improperly investigating another officer.
But there's been some good news for Adams. In June, police authorities sustained Gaines's complaint that cops had abused him. Though it's unclear whether any of the officers involved will receive discipline, the decision could provide ammunition for a civil case or even, potentially, criminal charges.
Adams, who was out for several months with stress-related health problems, will be back on duty when this story is published. He knows he might be a target for revenge. "I expect to be ostracized, but it doesn't matter," he says. "It's what I believe in."